Lives of Girls Who Became Famous HTML version
Madame de Staël
It was the twentieth of September, 1881. The sun shone out mild and beautiful upon Lake
Geneva, as we sailed up to Coppet. The banks were dotted with lovely homes, half
hidden by the foliage, while brilliant flower-beds came close to the water's edge. Snow-
covered Mont Blanc looked down upon the restful scene, which seemed as charming as
anything in Europe.
We alighted from the boat, and walked up from the landing, between great rows of oaks,
horsechestnuts, and sycamores, to the famous home we had come to look upon,--that of
Madame de Staël. It is a French chateau, two stories high, drab, with green blinds,
surrounding an open square; vines clamber over the gate and the high walls, and lovely
flowers blossom everywhere. As you enter, you stand in a long hall, with green curtains,
with many busts, the finest of which is that of Monsieur Necker. The next room is the
large library, with furniture of blue and white; and the next, hung with old Gobelin
tapestry, is the room where Madame Recamier used to sit with Madame de Staël, and
look out upon the exquisite scenery, restful even in their troubled lives. Here is the work-
table of her whom Macaulay called "the greatest woman of her times," and of whom
Byron said, "She is a woman by herself, and has done more than all the rest of them
together, intellectually; she ought to have been a man."
Next we enter the drawing-room, with carpet woven in a single piece; the furniture red
and white. We stop to look upon the picture of Monsieur Necker, the father, a strong,
noble-looking man; of the mother, in white silk dress, with powdered hair, and very
beautiful; and De Staël herself, in a brownish yellow dress, with low neck and short
sleeves, holding in her hand the branch of flowers, which she always carried, or a leaf,
that thus her hands might be employed while she engaged in the conversation that
astonished Europe. Here also are the pictures of the Baron, her husband, in white wig and
military dress; here her idolized son and daughter, the latter beautiful, with mild, sad face,
and dark hair and eyes.
What brings thousands to this quiet retreat every year? Because here lived and wrote and
suffered the only person whom the great Napoleon feared, whom Galiffe, of Geneva,
declared "the most remarkable woman that Europe has produced"; learned, rich, the
author of Corinne and Allemagne, whose "talents in conversation," says George Ticknor,
"were perhaps the most remarkable of any person that ever lived."
April 27, 1766, was the daughter of James Necker, Minister of Finance under Louis
XVI., a man of fine intellect, the author of fifteen volumes; and Susanna, daughter of a
Swiss pastor, beautiful, educated, and devotedly Christian. Necker had become rich in
early life through banking, and had been made, by the republic of Geneva, her resident
minister at the Court of Versailles.
When the throne of Louis seemed crumbling, because the people were tired of
extravagance and heavy taxation, Necker was called to his aid, with the hope that